Author Junot Diaz Faces Sexual Misconduct Accusations
LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
The literary world is struggling with a complicated #MeToo story this morning. Junot Diaz, a Pulitzer Prize winning author and a giant in the literary world, has been accused of sexual misconduct and verbal abuse by several women. But the story isn't as clear-cut as many of the cases we've seen in other fields. So NPR's Lynn Neary is here to break it down. Good morning, Lynn.
LYNN NEARY, BYLINE: Good morning.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So, Lynn, walk us through what happened.
NEARY: OK. It began at a literary conference in Australia. Diaz was on a panel when another writer, Zinzi Clemmons, confronted him from the audience about his treatment of her and then went on Twitter and accused him of trying to kiss her against her will when she was just a graduate student. That prompted a couple of other writers to go on Twitter and relate their experiences with Diaz, which were really verbal abuse - more like bullying. And they made the point that he's such a prominent literary figure - I mean, he was shortlisted for the National Book Awards, a Pulitzer Prize winner - that he's allowed to get away with this kind of behavior, this kind of bullying behavior and that they're saying, you know, no more. Well, by the end of the day, Diaz released a statement to NPR. He said he takes responsibility for his past. He's listening and learning from women's stories. And he concluded by saying we must continue to teach all men about consent and boundaries. And he also withdrew from that literary conference in Australia.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: We should say that this came after Diaz published an article last month in the New Yorker in which he said he had been raped as a child.
NEARY: That's right.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: How does that play into this? It seems to complicate the issue.
NEARY: It does, I think. And he referenced that article in his statement. He said that one of the reasons he wrote that article is because he is trying to take responsibility for some of his past actions with women. Now, when that article came out in April, it caused a lot of buzz with some speculation that he might have written it to get ahead of some accusation that he saw might be coming at him. Also, in his fiction, Diaz has written a lot about relations between the sexes, most notably in "This Is How You Lose Her" in which the main character acts very badly in a series of relationships.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Is a womanizer, indeed.
NEARY: But, you know, that New Yorker piece - if you read it, it was very candid. A very detailed account of...
GARCIA-NAVARRO: It's very moving and very sad.
NEARY: ....A terrible experience for a child. So you have to wonder, how did that affect him?
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Lynn, it's also complicated because Diaz is a giant for the Latino community. I mean, he has written so powerfully about racism, the whiteness that suffuses the literary world. And his writing and his books really mean something to Latinos. And I've seen that reaction, too, of just incredible disappointment.
NEARY: And, you know, it reminds me, sadly, of Sherman Alexie, who I have reported on as well, who was accused of sexual harassment and bullying behavior, a very prominent member of the Native American writing community. And it's interesting that Latina writers are among those who are now coming out with these accusations. And one wrote a piece saying, I tried to warn you about Junot Diaz 10 years ago. She had a toxic relationship with him. It was consensual, but it ended very badly. She felt it hurt her career in part because he is so prominent in the Latino community, and when she tried to tell people what had happened to her, people were angry at her for tearing down someone who people viewed as sort of a hero of the literary community and that the publishing world also rejected her at that time.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: I'd like to talk about some of these accusations, though, because when we talk about authors - you mentioned Sherman Alexie, now Junot Diaz. None of these are clear-cut as other cases - you know, the ones that we've heard about, members of the media who have been accused of sexual harassment in the workplace.
NEARY: Right. There's no workplace here, right? There's no direct power relationship. You're not talking about a boss or a manager treating an employee badly. They're all writers or would-be writers, and they're meeting each other in what are sort of partly business and partly social situations. A conference as the one in Australia was - and for a young would-be writer, it's very exciting to meet a writer like Junot Diaz and to try and talk to him about her writing and hope perhaps that he might help her in the future. And there's a larger issue going on here, too, which is I think there's kind of a long-simmering resentment among a lot of women writers that male writers are treated differently. I mean, they've looked at the number of reviews that male writers get or the way a book by certain kinds of men writers are treated as incredible...
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Literary events.
NEARY: Literary events, whereas some women's writing is dismissed as just writing about families. They don't take them seriously as literary writers. And that's been around for a while. And I think some of that resentment is coming to play in what you're hearing from women now when they talk about not letting some of these guys get away with bullying behavior.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's NPR's Lynn Neary. Thank you so much.
NEARY: Good to be here.
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